Tory drive for more women MPs

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The Conservatives want more women in Parliament in order to attract female voters. Yesterday the leadership said it had "learnt its lessons" and would ensure more female candidates were selected.

While Theresa May, who speaks for the party on women, said it still opposed such positive discrimination as women- only shortlists, there would be greater emphasis on women. There are 14 female Tory MPs, compared to Labour's 101. Mrs May said 18 per cent of candidates on the present list were women. Constituency associations would be reminded of the importance of such "female skills" as listening.

The decision to develop a more women-friendly image was partly prompted by a report by Tessa Keswick, of the Conservative Policy Centre, whosaid the party's outdated image was risking losing female votes at the next election.

Mrs May, at the launch of "Choices", the Conservatives' review of policies with relevance to women, said: "We are planning a systematic consultation with women voters throughout the country on issues which have distinct importance for women."

The launch coincided with another Tory ploy to win over women. Strategists have identified a new breed: "Florida Family". The Tories, copying Labour's focus on "Worcester Woman" before the last election, believe "Florida Woman" could be their secret weapon.

As a stereotype, she lives in a suburban semi and worries about standards at her children's school. Her husband drives a company car and wants to holiday in Florida. Polls for the Tories suggest this group of floating voters could be the launch-pad for a comeback.